Commonly Confused Word Pairs: Commonly confused words

December 7, 2006: Issue 167

No, we’re not talking about Lance and Reichen or Pam and Kid. These are pairs of words that are easily confused.

• insure/ensure
Insure means to protect against financial loss: The house was insured against flood damage.
Ensure means to make certain: Two coats of primer ensure the old color won’t show through.
TIP: Remember the word insurance as in insurance policy. If there’s no policy involved, you probably wantensure.

• gleam/glean
Gleam means to shine: She polished the faucet handles until they gleamed.
Glean means to gather: Glean ideas from magazines before you start shopping.
TIP: Think of Gleem toothpaste. Despite the double-e problem, they did get the m right. (Let’s hope you never have to gather your teeth.)

• jibe/jive
Jibe means to mesh: The dull colors didn’t jibe with her bright personality.
Jive means to swing: You gotta jump, jive, then you wail.
TIP: Try to associate the be in jibe with be in accord.

• forego/forgo
Forego means to go before: Having read the foregoing, do you understand the distinction?
Forgo means to go without: In this secluded house, he decided to forgo window treatments.
TIP: Remember that forgo goes without the e. Forego shares its fore with before.

• principle/principal
Principal means money or a leader: Pay a little extra on your mortgage each month, and you’ll pay off the principal much sooner. Uh-oh, the principal of Timmy’s school wants to meet with us.
Principle means a code or doctrine: Symmetry is one of his central design principles.
TIP: We give up. This one confounds people, and even Web 11 says simply, “If you are unsure which noun you want, read the definitions in this dictionary.” Anyone have a better system?

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